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Released Ten Years Ago, “Pieces of April” is a Thanksgiving Classic

October 14, 2013

By John Corrado

Pieces of April DVD CoverWhen some films reach the anniversary of when they were first released, they’re met with celebration and recognized with new editions.  But as the 2003 dramedy Pieces of April quietly reaches the milestone number of ten years, the fanfare isn’t as loud as this small gem rightfully deserves.

Taking place on American Thanksgiving, Pieces of April ranks near the great Planes, Trains and Automobiles as one of the best movies ever made about the holiday.  Although set on the fourth Thursday in November instead of the second Monday in October, I couldn’t think of a better time to profile this small triumph, as we are just wrapping up our own celebrations here in Canada.

April Burns (Katie Holmes) has settled into the rhythm of her own life, sharing a rundown apartment with her boyfriend Bobby (Derek Luke) in a poor part of New York.  But she still has unhealed wounds from her childhood, which she hopes to finally smooth over when she invites her estranged family over from Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving.  But her oven is broken and as she incompetently tries to prepare the meal, she has to rely on the generous and sometimes begrudging help of the other people in her building, as her kind boyfriend goes out to try and find a suit to wear for the occasion.

We also follow along as her parents Jim (Oliver Platt) and Joy (Patricia Clarkson), siblings Beth (Alison Pill) and Timmy (John Gallagher Jr.) all pile into the car with Grandma Dottie (Alice Drummond), and their conversations reveal the backstory of this dysfunctional family.  Joy still feels resentment towards April, and even an ongoing battle with cancer hasn’t convinced her to make the effort of reconciling with her rebellious daughter, who is genuinely trying to make something nice for her family.  It’s clear that they have had a falling out over the years, but April seems like the only one who is actually making an effort to move on.

The title of Pieces of April, which was appropriately inspired by the beautiful Three Dog Night song, not only refers to the broken pieces of the title character’s own family, but also to the people who enter her life at the time she needs them most.  As April struggles to get dinner on the table before her parents and siblings arrive, something genuinely beautiful happens in the way that she interacts with her ragtag group of neighbours.  This includes an older couple, Evette (Lillias White) and Eugene (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who take pity on her and not only teach her about the importance of fresh cranberry sauce but also the meaning of family.

There are just so many wonderful moments throughout, and the ways that these characters come together and fall apart is both entertaining and emotional to watch.  Although the tenth anniversary seems to be going relatively unnoticed, and Pieces of April has yet to receive a Blu-ray release, this is a truly special little film.  Patricia Clarkson received an Oscar nomination for her beautiful supporting work, and Katie Holmes delivers a career defining performance.  The rest of the large supporting cast all round out the memorably believable film, which was shot on a low budget over just sixteen days.

Written and directed by Peter Hedges, Pieces of April presents a moving portrait of a broken family, with the gritty cinematography adding a feeling of authenticity.  This is a film that feels real, with an excellent screenplay that understands the connections we all share to each other in an incredibly touching and relatable way.  “Once there was this one day where everybody seemed to know they needed each other,” April beautifully explains about Thanksgiving to a family of Chinese immigrants who let her borrow their apartment, “this one day when they knew for certain that they couldn’t do it alone.”

This represents the idea that family goes deeper than just the people we are related to, but can also be made up of broken pieces who come together to create a complete whole.  These messages are beautifully delivered through a tone that is sometimes darkly funny and other times painfully sad, leading up to a genuinely moving and quietly uplifting final scene.  Ten years after first reaching audiences, Pieces of April is a small gem that still deserves to find an audience every holiday season.

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